Saturday, June 29, 2013

June Site Update

The previous 14 reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main site, Brightdreamer Books.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Easy eBook Publishing (Barney Schwartz)

Easy eBook Publishing
Barney Schwartz
B.E.N. Publishing
Nonfiction, Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Learn how to format and publish an eBook with this quick guide.
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: On the plus side, this book does exactly what it says, walking the reader step by step through eBook software and websites. On the minus side, it does almost nothing else. It doesn't explain any of the options one is presented with. It only touches on pros and cons of different places and methods of e-publishing. Indeed, I'm not entirely sure that this sort of walkthrough isn't covered under any given software's FAQ or help section. The illustrations are also difficult to read on an eInk screen. Being free, I didn't expect too much out of it, but it still feels unnecessary.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online (Haphiza Baboolal) - My Review
The Truth About Publishing on Kindle (Rick Frazier) - My Review
Profit from the eBook Revolution (Bob Perry) - My Review

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Letters of a Woman Homesteader (Elinore Pruitt Stewart)

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Public Domain Books
Nonfiction, Autobiography
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In 1909, widow Elinore Pruitt and her young daughter Jerrine head to the Wyoming frontier to try their hands at homesteading. In a series of letters to her former employer, Elinore describes the hardships and wonders of her new life.

REVIEW: These letters serve as a window on a lost world, the American frontier of the early twentieth century. Elinore is everything a pioneer should be: resourceful, resilient, independent, outspoken, and blessed with a fair helping of raw luck. Some of her ideas seem remarkably modern - such as her oft-repeated declaration that women shouldn't be afraid to make their own fortune, instead of living at the whim of employers - while others root her firmly in her era. She describes many interesting characters, most of whom would be right at home in Hollywood Westerns. Being merely selections from a much larger body of work, there are some jumps in time and events, glossing over large sections of her life and work. It also ends randomly, with little sense of conclusion. Still, I found it intriguing and educational.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Secret School (Avi) - My Review
Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery) - My Review
Alone in the Wilderness - Amazon DVD Link

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard)

The Phoenix on the Sword
(The Conan the Barbarian series)
Robert E. Howard
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once a barbarian from savage Cimmeria, the warrior Conan now rules over Aquilonia, a civilized but turbulent nation. Now, the people who welcomed him when he threw down their former, corrupt king stir restlessly, as dark rumors are whispered in the shadows. Behind these, lurking like a spider in a web, skulks Ascalante, who has assembled a network of traitors to assassinate Conan and install his own puppet on the throne. But forces greater than mere politics are afoot, and an evil greater than Ascalante can imagine is about to be unleashed within Aquilonia.

REVIEW: Available as a public domain freebie, this was the first short story in the vaunted Conan the Barbarian series, one of the seminal franchises behind the fantasy genre. The foreword claims that Tolkien was not influenced by this, but both he and Howard drew off the same epic narrative roots, replete with elder-day verbosity and poetic turns of phrase. Conan is a larger-than-life hero, a battle-thirsty barbarian who nevertheless ultimately has the good of the people at heart. His enemies, naturally, want nothing but evil things, acting for entirely selfish reasons. There's intrigue and ancient magic and, of course, some good, old-fashioned skull-bashing. I don't expect I'll follow Conan much further, myself, but I can definitely see the appeal of the story, especially to younger boys.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Leopard's Daughter (Lee Killough) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review
The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien) - My Review

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Old MacDonald Had a Dragon (Ken Baker)

Old MacDonald Had a Dragon
Ken Baker, illustrations by Christopher Santoro
Two Lions
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Old MacDonald has a new beast on his famous farm, but the other animals object.

REVIEW: Another slow work day... A quick and entertaining read, with whimsical illustrations. The ending could've been punchier, but on the whole I found it amusing.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Knight and the Dragon (Tomie DePaola) - My Review
The Paper Bag Princess (Robert N. Munsch) - My Review
Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin) - My Review

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson)

The Princess and the Firedrake
Jim Stinson
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

The Princess and the Firedrake

DESCRIPTION: Princess Alexandra, or Alix, is graceful, beautiful, and clever. Too clever. Cursed by a warlock at her christening, she takes her mother's scientific leanings to alienating extremes, unknowingly pushing away even her own family when she insists on being right about everything all the time... as she invariably is. Fed up, the humiliated king finally locks her away forever.
In nearby Mount Sulphur, the firedrake Griddle grows restless. There was a time when his name was feared throughout the known world, when champions came from thousands of miles around to test their mettle - and, invariably fail - against his might. Now, with that newfangled science telling everyone that magic doesn't even exist, it's been ages since he had a proper challenge.
As Griddle's fury plunges the kingdom into a deadly heat wave, the king's efforts to stop the dragon only make things worse. To save her land and her family, Princess Alix turns her immense intellect to the task... but it will take a power even greater than her prodigious mind to defeat the firedrake.
An eBook-exclusive title, not available via Amazon.

REVIEW: I was looking for a light, fast read on my Nook when I downloaded this title. Little did I realize that what appeared to be a short story was, in fact, nearly a full-length novel. The premise, based loosely on a tale by Andrew Lang, puts a bit of a twist on the classic fairy tale, with a rather silly overtone. Everyone here, from the princess to the firedrake, reads like a caricature, tumbling and bumbling along through a story whose ultimate outcome is telegraphed in the first few chapters. Nevertheless, it has some fun moments, and Alix must earn her victories over both the firedrake and her curse. While ultimately too goofy for my tastes, I've read worse.
On an unrelated note, I need to investigate how to add affiliate links to books not offered via Amazon...

You Might Also Enjoy:
My Sparkling Misfortune (Laura Lond and Alla Alekseyeva) - My Review
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) - My Review
Forever After (Roger Zelazny, creator) - My Review

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The World is Your Litter Box: Deluxe Edition (Steve Fisher)

The World is Your Litter Box: Deluxe Edition
Steve Fisher, with Quasi
Fiction, Humor
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Being a cat isn't as easy as it looks. So many things to investigate (and destroy), so many household rules to learn (and ignore), and that's not counting how to deal with one's human, who often (erroneously) believes they're the one in charge of the place. Quasi, a Siamese mix sharing his home with (alleged) writer Steve Fisher, offers advice to cats of all ages on subjects ranging from looking cute and toying with allergic houseguests to enduring vet visits and thwarting diets.
This deluxe edition includes the original 2008 version of The World is Your Litter Box, plus six chapters from the sequel (The World is Still Your Litter Box) and several posts from Quasi's blog.

REVIEW: In this how-to guide for felines, Quasi spills the beans on catdom's best-kept secrets. Anyone who has lived with a cat will recognize these tricks. Quasi's commentary sometimes tries to be a little too clever for its own good; the book is at its best when it sticks with its premise, advising cats on how to live life to the fullest (and manipulate humans for fun and profit.) Toward the end, the style wears a bit thin, as Quasi repeats himself. Overall, though, it's a light, fun read for any cat-lover.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Nine Lives of Algernon (John Jenkins Espey) - My Review
The Devious Book for Cats (Fluffy and Bonkers) - My Review
The Cat Manual (Michael Ray Taylor) - My Review

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Author Vs. Character (Lazette Gifford)

Author Vs. Character
Lazette Gifford
A Conspiracy of Authors
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Tormented by nightmares, stuck sleeping in cold barns and piles of straw, surrounded by monsters and enemies, staring down a fate possibly worse than Death itself... and, to cap it all, after five chapters he doesn't even have a name! A frustrated character argues with his Author.
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A freebie short story, it sounded like a fun idea. Unfortunately, it reads more like a rough draft, the sort of filler a writer throws in when everything seems to be fighting them, but they don't want to kill their momentum... not the sort of thing one would show to the masses. The formatting annoyed me, as well; it's more like a play than a story, a gimmick that kept me at arm's length as the argument unfolded. I'm sure it was fun to write, though.
(This is the first story I've read on my new Nook tablet; it doesn't appear to be available via Amazon.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Storybound (Marissa Burt) - My Review
Inkheart (Cornelia Funke) - My Review
Stranger Than Fiction - Amazon DVD Link

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Thee I Sing (Barack Obama)

Of Thee I Sing
Barack Obama, illustrations by Loren Long
Alfred A. Knopf
History/Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: President Barack Obama writes an open letter of love and hope to his children.

REVIEW: It was another slow work day, and this was on top of the bin. (Well, this and a James Patterson novel.) An inspiring read, it offers thirteen reasons why America is a land of hope and opportunity, embodied in thirteen visionaries from our nation's history - not all of them obvious choices. Men and women, blacks and whites, immigrants and natives, all have something to contribute. If only grown-ups were so easy to convince...

You Might Also Enjoy:
Beyond the Western Sea (Avi) - My Review
Cat Hiss-Tory: A Feline Tour Through the Ages (Bill Bell) - My Review

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+ (Minute Help Guides)

A Newbies Guide to Nook HD and HD+
Minute Help Guides
Nonfiction, Technology
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: More than just an eBook reader, Barnes & Noble's powerful Nook HD rivals more expensive tablet options. Learn to use the powerful Nook HD and HD+ tablets with this simple guide.

REVIEW: Having recently purchased a Nook tablet, this looked like a great way to become acquainted with its many bewildering options. I also couldn't resist the irony of learning about a Barnes & Noble device with a Kindle eBook. A fast read, it's less intimidating than the official User Guide included on the Nook device. With simple explanations and pictures, it leads newcomers through setting up and exploring their new tablet. Unfortunately, the pictures were small and hard to read on my Kindle; doubtless they were better in the paperback edition. I had also hoped for a few more explanations, such as whether or not antivirus or anti-malware software is a necessity. Still, it helped me become better acquainted with my shiny new toy. The rest, I suppose I'll learn as I go, as usual with computers.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Kindle Fire 7", LCD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers - Amazon link

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Nightingale (David Farland)

(The Nightingale series, Book 1)
David Farland
East India Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)

DESCRIPTION: For sixteen-year-old foster child Bron Jones, life is all about disappointment. He was abandoned by his birth mother when he was only a few days old; since then, he's bounced from home to home, family to family. He gets good grades, doesn't break the law, and works harder than most adults, but everyone seems to think there's something wrong with him. Bron's starting to wonder if they're right.
Olivia Hernandez teaches at a private school in Saint George, a small Utah town. She's devoted her life to fostering creativity in her gifted students, but still wants a child of her own... and she can't conceive with her husband Mike, but not for the reasons he thinks. She is a masaak, an ancient offshoot of humanity, blessed with long life and special psionic gifts. They've long ago split into two races: the Aels, who live in hiding and continue their efforts to protect and promote the best in their sister species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and the Draghouls, who treat humans as just another natural resource to be exploited for their personal gain.
From the moment Olivia sees Bron, she knows he's one of her kind. She even knows he's likely a Draghoul, her own people's sworn enemies. At his age, it's only a matter of time before he's "harvested" and brainwashed with Draghoul propaganda, becoming just another heartless minion of their Shadow Lord. If she's caught with him, she'll be brainwashed, too, her memories hollowed out and used to hunt down her fellow Aels. Bron doesn't even know what he truly is, but he already shows signs of the innate coldness of his kind. Despite the dangers, Olivia cannot give up on saving Bron - not even when he's ready to give up on himself.

REVIEW: This was the first Kindle book I ever paid for, as part of a fundraiser. I can only hope the money went to a good cause. But money can be replaced. My time, unfortunately, cannot... and I lost too much of it here.
The first half of Nightingale isn't so much a story as a filibuster, from the chapter-starting quotes (by the characters themselves, most of which are eminently forgettable) to the wandering plot. Nobody will tell Bron who or what he is, despite imminent threats to his life and the lives of others... and despite most of Olivia's inner dialog focusing on how tragic it is that the boy doesn't know he's a masaak. There are reasons, Bron is told (as is the reader), very good reasons for why nobody tells anyone anything they need to know to save their own skins. So, it's not just manufacturing false tension or stretching drama past the breaking point. It's for Reasons.
Olivia is a memory merchant, capable of sharing (or altering, or erasing) memories, simply by touching a person's forehead; she even uses this ability on Bron in his sleep, to figure out how much of a threat he is and if he's too screwed up to save. While in there, it would be so easy to plant a seed of the truth, a hint - if not the full truth, then at least something to help keep Bron safe and ease his growing anxiety. Instead, Olivia decides it would be a better use of her time and effort to give him nocturnal guitar lessons. Yes, apparently learning to play a killer riff so you'll be popular in school is far, far more important than finding out what species you are or why people with guns are chasing you. Of course, a boy like Bron shouldn't need musical skills to be popular. He's described as little short of a Greek god, with ripped abs and perfect skin; not one full week into his stay at Saint George, he has two of the hottest girls in town throwing themselves at him. (But, then, the whole book is infused with a not-so-subtle sexist air; masaak women are helpless to control themselves faced with a breeding male's scent, females are popular toys used as rewards for Draghouls, in crisis situations grown women look to a teenage boy for guidance...) Bron doesn't know how to deal with this, as he's never so much as kissed a girl before. He's poor, you see, so the fact that he's a teen god has been completely overlooked until now. Yeah, right...
Aside from the teen girls, Saint George is populated entirely with stock characters. There's the petty, corrupt sheriff who doesn't like Bron on first sight, because them foster kids is always trouble. There's the sheriff's son, a chip off the old stereotypical block, so shallow and stupid that one wonders how he ended up at a school for gifted artists. There are the rich neighbors who don't approve of their daughter's crush on the new boy. Even Olivia's husband, Mike, mostly exists to fill space; Olivia keeps him clueless about her true nature with her mind-altering skills, so he has no role whatsoever in the brewing Ael/Draghoul war.
Between stock characters, Olivia's fretting, and Bron's brooding, Farland litters the narrative with enough pop culture references to fill a teen magazine, apparently to convince the target audience that this is a Hip, Cool tale that they can relate to - and not, as increasingly becomes apparent, a work of thinly-veiled Christian fiction starring a too-perfect protagonist fighting a villain who is, quite literally, Lucifer himself. And then it all ends by being the first part of a series. With ads. Yes, there is an ad break in this book, pitching the "enhanced edition," which comes with a guitar soundtrack. So... what, I paid good money for the stripped-down junk version? Or are books now marketing themselves like video games, with expansion packs to enhance the experience? What's next - books you can only read while connected to the internet, that require a monthly subscription fee and valid credit card for access, and which vanish as soon as the author decides it's time to push the sequel? (Hey, people tolerate it in gaming...)
I liked one or two of the ideas presented here; the memory merchants could've been a book on their own. The masaak race itself, despite a disturbing reliance on Vulcans as a framework (the "mind meld" of memory transfer, the six-odd year rut cycle of the males, the longer lifespan, the general air of intellectual superiority), had potential. But the rest... the rest I can't forget soon enough.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Forbidden Mind (Kimberly Kinrade) - My Review
Pendragon: Merchant of Death (D.J. MacHale) - My Review
Witch and Wizard (James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet) - My Review

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Dragon Machine (Helen Ward)

The Dragon Machine
Helen Ward, illustrations by Wayne Anderson
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Young George starts seeing dragons everwhere. They're small and overlooked - just like he is. But they're also in danger; bad things happen when people notice dragons. He must lead them to a far-away sanctuary, a wilderness where nobody will find them... but how?

REVIEW: What can I say? It was a slow day at work. This is an imaginative adventure, enhanced by Anderson's signature illustrations. George has to choose between keeping his new best friends and doing what's right for them. As a dragon lover, I enjoyed it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon (Jody Bergsma) - My Review
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville) - My Review
Dragons - Truth, Myth and Legend (David Passes) - My Review

The Trouble with Dragons (Debi Gliori)

The Trouble with Dragons
Debi Gliori
Walker Childrens
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Dragons take their world for granted, building their cities and leveling their forests and spreading their garbage everywhere, until things start to go wrong.

REVIEW: A thinly-veiled message about civilization's toll on the environment, The Trouble With Dragons shows what went wrong with the dragon world, and how they worked together to make it right. Of course, it's easy in a picture book... It gets marks for actually mentioning that overpopulation is a problem, a topic many books shy away from. Will books like this save planet Earth? I doubt it, given a child's limited control over their world, but ignoring the issue sure hasn't worked...

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon World (Rob Brown) - My Review
Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin) - My Review
Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (Jon Steward et al.) - My Review

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Blood for Wolves (Nicole Taft)

Blood for Wolves
Nicole Taft
Nicole Taft, publisher
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Wolf biologist Caroline McKenna was in the field to observe a local pack, not to rescue lost children. When she saw the strange little girl fall into the pond, she had to jump in to help... only to find herself in another world, where wolves are feared - and not without reason.
The forested Kingdom of Red is home to many wolves. At one time, they were friends and companions with humans, even taking human form to intermarry. But a terrible curse lays upon the land, producing savage werewolves and driving man and beast apart with fear. The girl Caroline chased may be the key to ending the curse, but she's being pursued by a powerful enemy, one determined to fan the flames of hatred into all-out war.
Caroline thought protecting wolves from angry cattle ranchers was the hardest part of her job. Here, she faces fear and danger on a whole new level. In the Kingdom of Red, the cursed wolves may just tear out her heart - literally.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Based loosely on Little Red Riding Hood, Blood for Wolves mixes wolf lore, fairy tale magic, and a healthy dose of romance. For the most part, Caroline makes a strong heroine, fighting her own demons even as she fights to save her much-maligned wolves. I say "for the most part" because she has a way of backsliding now and again, conveniently developing new insecurities or forgetting things she should know. Her love interest, the half-wolf named Wolf (lacking a pack or human associates, he doesn't have a proper name), makes a decent enough match, his behavior just peculiar enough to remind Caroline and the reader that he's not entirely human. Like Caroline, he's not a perfect person; more than once, his animal nature causes trouble. The story itself moves at a decent pace, with plenty of action (clothed and otherwise.) The fairy tale world feels a little thin around the edges, but it serves its purpose as a place to have adventures. It ratchets up to a fine climax that leaves the door wide open for sequels. For the most part, I enjoyed the ride. It almost lost a half-star for some shaky spots, including a disturbing sequence when Wolf's darker nature comes to the forefront, but I'm feeling generous.
On a completely unrelated note, by my calculations, this is my 1000th book review.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Wolfwing (Ruby Andrews) - My Review
Half-Human (Bruce Coville, editor) - My Review
Pride's Run (Cat Kalen) - My Review

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Valley of Fear (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Valley of Fear
(A Sherlock Holmes novel, Book 4)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Mystery
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: A cryptic message from a long-time informant sends the great London detective Sherlock Holmes to rustic Birlstone, where a horrific murder has just occurred. But something quite peculiar is going on in the household of the late John Douglas, the culmination of a decade-old vendetta from halfway around the world - a vendetta aided and abetted by none other than Professor Moriarty himself.

REVIEW: This was the last full-length Sherlock Holmes novel written by Doyle, inspired by the infamous Molly Maguires, a secret society of immigrant coal workers in America. Like other Holmes stories, this book establishes a number of singular characters and a perplexing puzzle for Holmes to unravel. Also like other Holmes stories, it revels in long tangents into back-stories. The tangents here seem unnecessarily long and repetitive, however; I'm quite sure they could have made their point with a third less page count. The narration also deliberately withholds vital information, not just in the workings of Sherlock's inscrutable mind (which is usually a black box unless he chooses to explain himself to his archivist, Doctor Watson.) The ending made the events, and the effort spent solving the mystery, seem futile. While not a bad story by any means, I didn't find it as satisfying to read as previous Sherlock Holmes novels.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
The Ruby in the Smoke (Philip Pullman) - My Review
Sherlock: Season One - Amazon DVD link